27 May 2018

Abortion views in NZ yet 'to be put to the test'

6:14 pm on 27 May 2018

The Justice Minister says he'd be surprised if New Zealand didn't follow Ireland's lead in abortion law reform.

Cabinet MP Andrew Little addressing the public meeting in New Plymouth last night.

Andrew Little said the result of the Irish referendum indicated that attitudes and values towards abortion were changing. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

In Ireland, 66 percent of the electorate voted to change the country's strict abortion laws, with thousands of Irish citizens living in Europe returning home to take part in the historic vote.

In February, Andrew Little asked the Law Commission to look at changing the policy so abortion becomes a health issue, rather than a criminal one.

Mr Little said while Ireland's circumstances were quite different - the result of its referendum did indicate attitudes and values towards abortion were changing.

The Law Commission needed to be left to do its work, and New Zealand's opinion was yet to be put to the test, Mr Little said.

"I would be surprised if New Zealand wasn't like Ireland, in the sense that views and attitudes to this issue ... are changing. I'd be surprised if we haven't undergone the same sort of change there.

"Eventually this ... will be put to the test here and we will see what happens then," Mr Little said.

Abortion Law Reform Association president Terry Bellamak said the overwhelming decision by the Irish to change their laws, gave momentum for change in this country as well.

"The role of women in society so much within a single life span, people are much more willing to trust women and pregnant people with their own decisions about their own bodies," she said.

Ms Bellamak said for the first time in a long time, the government had the will to address abortion law, but it needed to be kept on track.

Meanwhile, the Irish Consul-General to New Zealand said she believed Irish politicians of all parties would now unite behind changes to the abortion laws.

Niamh McMahon told Sunday Morning the momentum behind changes had been building for some time.

She said it had been a quiet revolution in social attitudes within Ireland.

"I'm the proudest person on the planet here for Ireland, I just am blown away by the fact that I can now stand tall and say that we are a progressive and a modern country and that we respect the rights of all people, regardless of what your beliefs are and your backgrounds are on this issue."

Ms McMahon said it was hugely important that Irish women needing an abortion would now be able to get safe medical care without having to leave the country.

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